It all finally came together for Seal Cove on Wednesday.
In a stellar allowance optional claiming race at a mile on the turf, Seal Cove and jockey Javier Castellano won the sixth race at Saratoga Race Course to set him up for a return in the Grade II Bernard Baruch on Aug. 31.
The stakes-caliber field included multiple graded-stakes winner Mr. Commons, 2011 Grade I Woodbine Mile winner Turallure and a variety of other terrific turf milers.
Seal Cove, who has had significant training breaks since 2011, when he won the Gleaming and was seventh in the Saranac at Saratoga before a seventh in the Grade I Jamaica, came off an almost three-month layoff to win the sixth by a head over Turallure in a wild finish. Less than two lengths separated the top six in the nine-horse field.
“I don’t think it’s a good distance for him, but it was today, especially behind a slow pace,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “Javier was able to take him back, and he was able to finish. He’s probably better trying to circle horses, which he tried to do, but the second horse came up on the outside of him.
“But he pinned his ears and dug in. I knew when he got up close that he’d probably have a chance, because wanting to run a little farther, he’d still go on and finish.”
Seal Cove, a 5-year-old gelding by Strong Hope owned by Stuart Janney, was fourth in the John B. Connally Turf Cup at Sam Houston in January, took some time off, then was fifth to Street Game in the Dave at Aqueduct in April before McGaughey shut him down again.
“When you look back, that race [at Sam Houston] came up a little tougher,” McGaughey said. “I gave him the rest of the winter, I took him to Aqueduct and, I don’t know, he just didn’t run any good. And I had to do some work on his feet.
“I felt like he would run good [Wednesday], but I didn’t know about the mile. The rain helped, it softened it up a bit. It changed from being so speedy. But I’m not surprised he won, to be honest.”
The card also included the $100,000 Broom Dance Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile and an eighth on the main track.
Montana Native, a daughter of Yes It’s True, used a front-running trip under Joel Rosario to win in her stakes debut.
QUICK CALL TODAY
Weekend Hideaway is the 3-1 morning-line favorite in a wide-open co-feature today, the $100,000 Quick Call turf sprint for 3-year-olds.
The son of champion sprinter Speightstown will try turf for the second time, after winning the Gone Fishin at Belmont Park on June 28 for trainer Phil Serpe.
He broke his maiden on a sloppy main track at Saratoga last year and was switched to turf after finishing second to Amberjack in the Mike Lee.
In the fourth race, Willet is the 2-1 favorite in the $100,000 Lottsa Talc for New York-bred fillies and mares at seven furlongs.
Willet is the 2-1 favorite while returning to state-bred competition after losing the Grade II Go for Wand by a neck and finishing fifth in the Grade III Bed o’ Roses.
“You’ve got Miss Valentine, Clear Pasaj for Bruce Levine and Willet,” said Tom Bush, who trains 7-2 Beautiful But Blue. “It’s a tough race. All those fillies are competitive, probably, in open races. It’s the improved New York program, for sure.”
The card also includes the first steeplechase of the meet, the Jon-athan Kiser Novice Stakes in the first race, where the Jonathan Sheppard-trained entry of Martini Brother and Powerofone are slightly favored at 3-1.
Our Amazing Rose, scratched on opening day, will make her 2-year-old debut for trainer Todd Pletcher and Repole Stable in the fifth race, an $80,000 maiden special weight.